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Youth v Gov

A film about a historic climate case filed against the U.S. government by 21 young people premiered on Netflix on April 29, 2022. (Image: YOUTH v GOV)

New Climate Doc Premieres on Netflix as Youth Await Major Court Decision

"The question now is whether the Biden administration will keep fighting tooth and nail to keep them silenced, and whether our courts will stand up for their constitutional rights," said one attorney.

Jessica Corbett

The award-winning documentary titled YOUTH v GOV premiered globally on the streaming platform Netflix Friday as the youth plaintiffs featured in the film await a decision that could put their historic climate lawsuit on a path to trial.

"In under two hours, you get an inside look at nearly seven years of Juliana v. United States," said Julia Olson, executive director and chief legal counsel at Our Children's Trust, in a statement about the independent film. "And it's not over. We are determined to get to trial because our young clients deserve to take the stand and have their evidence heard by a judge."

The documentary—directed by scientist and filmmaker Christi Cooper—focuses on the federal suit filed in 2015 and its 21 plaintiffs. The Our Children's Trust legal team, which represents the young people, argues that by contributing to the climate emergency, the U.S. government is violating their clients' constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, and failing to protect essential public trust resources.

Shortly after settlement negotiations between the  U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and attorneys for the Juliana youth ended without resolution last November, federal lawmakers and advocacy groups sent President Joe Biden and other leaders in his administration letters in support of the plaintiffs.

"The question now is whether the Biden administration will keep fighting tooth and nail to keep them silenced, and whether our courts will stand up for their constitutional rights," Olson said Friday. "After 50 years of the government—both Democrats and Republicans—knowingly making the climate crisis worse, I'm not betting on partisan politics. But I do have faith in the judiciary."

The plaintiffs—now ages 14 to 26—are waiting for a court to rule on a motion to amend their complaint, which could put the case on track for a trial.

Since talks with the DOJ concluded, climate scientists have reiterated warnings about the need for systemic changes on a global scale, Congress has failed to pass a package containing key climate measures, and Biden has faced criticism for not taking executive action to address the planetary emergency.

"I think for a lot of young people right now, life is really scary, because we've never seen a moment like this in history, and our feelings about our life and our future [are] all because of choices that we had no participation in," says 26-year-old Kelsey Juliana—the named plaintiff in the case—during the first two minutes of the film.

"And so the plaintiffs joined this case," Juliana adds, "because we all know who's to blame and what needs to be done."

The Netflix release of the film—which has won over two dozen awards at film festivals worldwide—was met with excitement by climate action advocates.

"Put this on your must watch list this weekend!" tweeted the Wisconsin Environmental Health Network. "Let's get this important documentary into Netflix's trending now category!"

Noting that one of the plaintiffs—21-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez—is based in Boulder, Matt Benjamin, a member of the Colorado city's council, also highlighted the doc on Twitter.

"Make sure to check out this film streaming tonight on Netflix," he said. "It's inspirational. It's emotional. It fills me with hope that our younger generations will take control of their future."

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